Does your screen time make you happier?

A few months ago I moved my phone charger out of the bedroom so the phone is not there when I wake up. I also deleted social media apps from my devices. As a family, we decided to create more screen-free time and space in our lives.

The wifi now switches off automatically at certain times during the day, for example when the kids come home from school, and during homework and meal times – which was really annoying until we got used to it.

The reason for the change was that being connected to the internet 24/7 did not make me happy. Looking at the behaviour of my children after they spent time on their devices confirmed that screen time and happiness don’t often go together.

My wife and I decided that more screen-free time should also be applicable to us. As Robert Fulghum said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you”.

Taking this decision was difficult but it was nothing compared to implementing it. Not always having my smartphone nearby created all sorts of challenges, but it was also a new and positive experience.

It is interesting how much you see and hear when you’re not focussed on a screen (or thinking about what you have just read on your device). What is most important to me is that it feels so good. I hope my children will benefit from sitting less often behind screens and spending more time with family and friends.

If you want to learn more about this topic (even though you will have to use a screen to do so…), have a look at the Ted Talk below ‘Why our screens make us less happy’. Apparently, Steve Jobs’ children were not allowed to use an iPad.

In a thought-provoking Conversations podcast, Richard Fidler interviews social researcher David Gillespie about the addictive nature of social media and the teenage brain. Lastly, the website of the Australian eSafety Commissioner contains a wealth of information and tips about having safe and positive experiences online.

3 reasons why marketing to children is unhealthy

“For a young person with creative ambitions, copywriting is one of the coolest jobs around. I got a huge buzz when my ads appeared on TV or in magazines. (…) Who cared if it was all meaningless crap?” ~ Greg Foyster

There is a world between commercial copywriting and my job. A large part of what doctors do everyday, consists of undoing the damage caused by marketing and selling of unhealthy products.

That was the good news. The bad news is: Doctors are not winning.

What the industry says

Marketing to children is a controversial topic. There are people who feel we don’t need more regulation to protect our children from fast food or alcohol advertising.

Instead, parents should make sure their children don’t get exposed to these ads. And if they do – which is hard to avoid – parents must teach their children how to deal with marketing techniques.

The industry states their influence over children isn’t that big anyway, so why worry? Besides, they may say, complaints about advertising are really about the products and companies, and ads in itself are not the issue.

Purchasing power of kids

Although children wield power over their parents’ shopping behaviour, their critical judgement lags behind, and this makes kids vulnerable to marketing strategies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says:

“Research has shown that young children – younger than eight years – are cognitively and psychologically defenceless against advertising.They do not understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value.

According to experts it takes until the age of eleven or twelve before children understand the persuasive nature of advertising.

Why advertising is unhealthy

Our kids are overweight, drink too much alcohol, and may not live as long as their parents. Unhealthy habits are often taken into adulthood: Obese children are likely to become obese adults and parents. For a dramatic example, have a look at the video below.

Australian children between the ages of five and twelve are able to correctly match at least one sport with its relevant sponsor, according to a report by the Australian Alcohol Review Board. We know that advertising is effective in getting young people to start drinking, or to drink more if they already use alcohol.

3 reasons

Here are three reasons to stop marketing to children:

  1. Advertising teaches children to want what they don’t need
  2. Advertising encourages kids to make unhealthy purchasing decisions
  3. Advertising promotes materialistic values

Although I’m usually not in favour of more legislation, I feel we urgently need regulatory changes to protect our kids.

Journalist and writer Greg Foyster, whom I quoted above, quit his job in advertising and went on to live a basic and sustainable life. His well-researched book Changing Gears: A Pedal-Powered Detour from the Rat Race is worth a read.